Im telling you. I just cant believe my dad died this summer. Pastor Marvin Lewis Graham left his body on the rays of early dawn on summer solstice. As much hospice support I was for others years ago, as much studying and reflecting and experiencing levels of death before, it feels like nothing prepared me for this. Not a thing.
Now still in the thick of both grieving and continuing body-spirit practices to keep my health optimal, Im finding some gems hidden in his death.
If you were at my dad's funeral you would know a story I shared after my sister and I sang his favorite song. I shared what happened the night/early morning of his passing. Because I had maxed out my health and body energy in taking care of dad half of every week for three months, some deep chest pains and fatigue again arose. My mother saw how worn out I was getting and she encouraged me to take a week off to recalibrate, get strong again. Reluctantly, I accepted the encouragement and stayed home for a week. Little did I know that was the last week my dad would be alive.
The last day of my week of rest, the morning of his passing I had an immaculately vivid brief dream: I was at dad's bedside as I had been for many months. His large pecan-brown heavy hand in my thin same color hands. He lay there looking at me. I said the words to him I couldn't bring myself to say in 'real' life, the words I know from experience in hospice that loved ones need to say for the sake of the dying. "Dad, if you need to go now, its fine. We'll be okay," I said from a still peace and cosmic understanding I only periodically know in non-dream world. In the dream I gave him permission to be as free as he needed to be, do what he desired to do. He looked at me, and with a childlike subtle ripple of joy, like he'd been given permission to go for a walk after being cooped up all day, said, "Okay." Our hands let go of each others. He swung his legs around off the bed toward the window. Dad walked out of the room, like in the movies, but a little different. He walked through the walls but was visible as he did so. Everything was translucent, dad, the wall, me. Dad died into a spacious whole state, out of the fragmented separate self.
Dad died into wholeness.
A few hours later I woke up to a new message: don't worry about anything, theres not one thing worth worry. Then I turned on my phone and got the text from my brother, "Mom says dad stopped breathing." Was that dream real? What's real? Dad cant be gone because I feel closer to him than I did when I went to bed. Dead? What? Just as in the dream, it was like the world was see-through. Reality had shifted and I couldn't un-know what I then knew: even in death, there is something vibrant, full of life, a broadened sense of wholeness.
And over the last month as I haven't been able to write very much or very well I wonder what good can come of ambitions dying, of the sense of purpose fading away, what wholeness can be had in the great void. If I don't write, Im not a writer, right? If I don't do Reiki, I cant call myself a Reiki healer. But as my ambitions die, as my plans turn to ash, as the fog in my head only gets thicker, I've stopped fighting it and allow myself to experience wholeness unveiling itself in any circumstance.
The wholeness I speak of is very different than I had imagined it would be. Instead of a firming up, instead of a sure solidity, Im finding wholeness much deeper and more alive in the void, in the nothing. Its like what I imagine outer space to be. While its a vacuum, its also the most fertile ground of existence. Both the calculable, predictable and incalculable, spontaneous creations arise from this void. The void births and holds all things, including this lush extraordinary gift of Earth we float around on through space.
And what is the relevance to our ordinary extraordinary lives? Who's got time for contemplating these things when bills need to be paid, mouths fed, cars repaired, education to be learned, a sense of security to be gained, diseases to be healed, lives to be restored, justice to be fought for, missions to complete. All I can say is the more core desires die off in my life, including my cunning beautiful ego, the greater the sense of life, wholeness, connectedness. But without an experience of it, these are just philosophies to twirl around in the head.
To move this from the head and into the heart, here's a favorite exercise of dying to/releasing our many identities that you may find helpful:
Imagine all your identities are articles of clothing youre wearing (black/white, woman/man, writer, healthy, healer, sister, daughter, lover, member, beautiful, ugly, scared, happy, sick, athlete, painter, weak, strong, human, etc). Keep going. Get down to your essential identities, your skimpy undies. What are your core identities? Imagine peeling them off and being naked without them. What does it feel like to be a naked spirit/soul? Who are you when all your identities have died off? Who are you when youre not something/someone that can be described? Do you still exist? When whats most important to you dies, what is left of you? (for similar assistance in things like this try www.mooji.org).
Of course you have to wear clothes to be a member of society. Clothing/identities, theres nothing wrong with them. Its fun and necessary to be creative to live a full life as well. But no matter how much you wear, how fine it is, where its sourced, how much you paid for it, what those clothes symbolize and say about you, no matter the clothes, they do and will come off, as eventually will any identity you have.
I die/unveil daily as a practice to remember wholeness. I practice remembering who I am underneath the clothing/identities and I know it is complete and whole without them. This is a truth that sprang up while I was very ill in the body and helped carry me through my day in peace. Now that the body is beautifully feeling well and functional again, Im finding the dying practice to still bring me closer to a fuller life. My dad's death deepened and enriched this practice.
Maybe it doesn't sound that attractive but for those of us with whom illness has spent many years, with whom death and its many layers has paid us a visit for longer than we would've planned or liked, these practices can be a beautiful relief from the suffering that can cloud our very existence.
Living to be whole is just as valid. Dying to be whole is merely the other side of the coin, one we often deny out of fear.
Whether you lean into life or lean into death, wholeness, love, being God's child, is not diminished. We are whole with the stuff of life and we are whole without it. These words guide my own heart back into my day without fear. May it do the same for you.
Thank you, Dad, for dying into the wholeness that is you. May we learn and follow even as we live.